contax g1 review

Contax G1 Review (A professional Point and Shoot?)

When the Kyocera brought out the Contax G1 in 1994 [1], it was arguably the most advanced and feature-packed rangefinder interchangeable lens camera. In an age when all the rangefinder cameras used to be mechanical, the Contax G1 upped the game by incorporating various electronic components and features. What does this mean for a consumer? Well, it translates to ease of use mostly. And the Carl Zeiss lenses that came with the camera meant zero compromises on image quality.

The Contax G1 features a beautiful and sleek design that’s fairly easy to workaround. With a Titanium coating, the body manages to flaunt a premium look. The autofocus feature in this camera comes in quite handy and makes the camera stand out amidst other purely manual rangefinders. Further, the automatic film advance and rewind functions make the camera a breeze to work with. And to top it off, the G1 also features TTL light and flash metering to help you nail your exposures.

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Contax G1

Who is the Contax G1 meant for?

If you are looking for a stylish rangefinder film camera and don’t mind having some electronic functions, the Contax G1 can be a great consideration. In case you are conscious as far as designs go, then no worries on that front either. The body is pretty stylish and goes well in the hands.

Like any rangefinder camera, the Contax G1 is compact and pretty convenient to carry around. This makes it a beautiful tool for street photography. Automatic features like autofocus, automatic film advance and film rewind, and aperture priority mode among others make this camera a breeze to work with. So, if you are someone who seeks convenience when out taking photos, the Contax G1 will not disappoint you as the learning curve is pretty easy to get over.

Since the autofocus system in the Contax G1 is driven by a motor in the camera body, and not in the lens, it does make some noise in the process. So, if you need to be quiet with your work, make sure that you are comfortable with the noise level.

If you are getting the Contax G1 solely for the autofocus system, take into consideration that the camera has only one focus point at the center. Do not expect super-fast autofocusing either like in the modern-day cameras. The autofocus is pretty slow, and not always accurate.

Contax G1 features

ModelContax G1
Release date1994
Lens mountContax G-mount
Dimensions (WxHxD)133×76.5×35 mm (5.24×3.01×1.38 in)
Weight450 g (16 oz)
Shutter speedAuto: 16 – 1/2000sManual: 1 – 1/2000s, Bulb mode
ISO range6-6400
BatteryTwo 3V lithium batteries (CR2)
View finderReal image viewfinder, coupled with mounted lenses (zoom rangefinder)
Flash sync speed1/100s

Autofocus

I was really stoked at first when I came to know about a rangefinder with an autofocus feature. This is one of the reasons I got the Contax G1. Upon using the G1 for a long period of time, what I’ve noticed is that the autofocus system is not that fast. Maybe modern cameras have spoiled me a bit, but it is really a nice feature to have in a rangefinder.

In any case, working with the camera is still fun. Although the focus is not snappy, it gets the job done quicker than when I use manual focus. This may be the reason I also manage to get through a roll of film quite faster than when I use my other full manual film cameras.

One thing you’ll notice when using the Contax G1 is that the focus will reset to infinity as soon as you release the shutter button. This can be frustrating for some, especially when your subject distance is not changing. However, if you do not fully release the shutter button and keep it half depressed after taking the photo, the camera will not reset focus.

The Contax G2, on the other hand, has a focus hold button at the back to solve this issue. I like to think of this as the back button focus. Using this button at the back, you can focus on the subjects, and use the shutter button independently to take photos. Simply release the focus hold button to reset the focus to infinity.

But, if you prefer manual focusing, the camera also features a dial at the top which has a preset of focusing distances. I also noticed that this dial can be changed pretty easily thereby throwing your focus off. This is one of the very few things I really didn’t like about the Contax G1.

Metering

The Contax G1 has a center-weighted light meter built into it which does a pretty good job. If you find yourself using the focus and recompose technique way too often, the camera also features an auto exposure lock (AEL) function.

Auto functions

The Contax G1 was not shy of boasting about its electronic functions when it came out. Many purists may have loathed the camera due to all the digital features but I don’t mind it at all. I think that it just makes the camera much more practical. However, this feeling is purely subjective.

Take the way you load the film for instance. Just pop the roll into the back and extend the leader into the rolling mechanism. Then, once you close the back panel, you’re done. The camera comes with a DX cartridge recognition function which sets the camera to the rated ISO value without you having to do anything. However, you can easily override the ISO setting if you do not want to use the film at box speed.

And the auto experience does not end here. The camera has no film advance lever for you to pull after every exposure. Once you take a photo, the camera automatically advances the roll to the next frame. I really like this feature as it allows me to concentrate more on what’s going around me.

Another really neat trick that the Contax G1 has up its sleeve is the automatic zooming viewfinder. As you change the lens in the camera, the viewfinder zooms in and out accordingly to adjust the frame. A really impressive feature I must say.

contax g1 lens

Lenses

Without a doubt, the lenses are the greatest talking point of the Contax G series cameras. The lenses for these cameras are made by none other than Carl Zeiss and perform exceptionally well. As you’d expect from a Carl Zeiss glass, the images are razor sharp, maintain a beautiful contrast, and are well saturated.

The one that I have is a 45mm f/2 G Planar lens, and I absolutely love it. It’s fair to say that this is one of the best lenses ever made. The build is solid with the full-metal design. Even the barrel, mount, filter threads, and aperture ring are all metal with Titanium finish. Simply speaking, the lens screams of quality.

I personally have gotten used to the 45mm focal length. Sitting somewhere between the 35mm and the 50mm focal length, I really find the lens to be pretty versatile. A perfect companion for me to walk around in the streets.

From the bunch of lenses made for the Contax G series cameras, you can use all of the lenses in both the G1 and the G2, except for the 35-70mm f/3.5-5.6 lens which can only be used with the G2. Then there’s the 21mm f/2.8 and 35mm f/2 lens which needs a modified Contax G1 to be used with. A modified G1 can be identified by a green label in the film compartment.

Contax G1 Sample Images

Contax G1 vs G2

I got the Contax G1 for me as it was a great fit for my budget. Otherwise, the Contax G2 [2] which the company released in 1996 is capable successor to the G1. Below, I have summarized the major differences between the two cameras:

FeatureContax G1Contax G2
Shutter speedAuto: 16 – 1/2000sManual: 1-1/2000sSync: 1/100sAuto: 16-1/6000sManual: 4-1/4000sSync: 1/200s
Dimension133×76.5×35 mm(5.24×3.01×1.38 in)139x80x45mm(5.5×3.1×1.8 in)
Weight450 g (16 oz)560 g (20 oz)
AF systemPassive onlyActive IR / passive

Should you get the Contax G1?

If you are considering getting a film rangefinder camera with the ease of use of a digital camera, the Contax G1 can be a good choice. Purists will not appreciate the fact that the camera is not fully mechanical, but I can live with that. If convenience of use and practicality is what you are looking for, that’s where the Contax G1 shines.

Final verdict on the Contax G1

The way that the Contax G1 handles is really good thanks to the small and solid build. The lenses are absolutely brilliant and render beautiful images. The Contax G series cameras are worth getting for the lenses alone. All the automated functions in the G1 make working with the camera a lot easier, and increasing efficiency. It really is a camera that one can truly enjoy taking photos with.

For more on the best film cameras check out our round-up article. If you’re looking for the best 35mm film choices then we reviewed a ton of them here.

References

[1] https://camerapedia.fandom.com/wiki/Contax_G1

[2] https://www.photo.net/discuss/threads/contax-g1-before-g2.494226/

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